January 25, 2019 11:51:22 AM
One day when I was 15, I was sitting at my dining room table along with about five of my high school track teammates, all of us male. We were laughing about another boy from our school when my mom walked by and heard us.
She inquired why we were laughing about him.
"Because he's a queer," I answered.
My mother - every bit as wily as she was appalled - took a rather unorthodox approach to this disgusting, immature response, and one that forever changed my way of thinking.
"How do you know?" she asked.
"He likes boys," I said.
"But has he ever, to your knowledge, had sex with a boy?"
"I don't know."
Expecting that answer, she asked if I considered myself heterosexual. Of course, I answered yes.
"Have you ever had sex with a girl?"
Of course, I had not. But even if I had, confessing that to my rather conservative mother at 15, and in that particular setting, was a recipe for a lifetime grounding and one-way ticket to being homeschooled.
"Well, then how do you know?" she asked. "Seems like sex is a required step to truly say you're either hetero or homosexual. Otherwise, you're just sympathetic to one or the other with no evidence to back it up."
My friends laughed, noting "she really got you there." When she asked them the same question, they answered likewise.
Her point, as she later elaborated to me in private, was simple: Don't judge. Your responsibility to treat people as humans always supersedes any opinions you may have about their decisions.
Said another way: You can, with the same brain and heart, disagree with someone's life choices and still show empathy for why they made them.
I think about that conversation with my mom a lot, especially lately, when considering the vitriol surrounding the right-to-life movement.
Just a cursory look at my Facebook newsfeed the last few days has been particularly revealing. From the "pro-lifers" it's a near constant stream of coarsely worded attacks on "abortionists" and "baby killers" -- ranging from full-throated, angry defenses of the Covington Catholic students at the March for Life who others have accused of harassing participants of an Indigenous Peoples March, to sanctimonious agony over a law in New York that supposedly makes it easier to have late-term abortions.
Nearly all the posts and comments I've seen are couched in some kind of Christian context, but few even attempt to convey any type of Christian love. In fact, most are crass, ill-informed and intended to wound. They tout a need to "protect the sanctity of human life" but show little regard for human dignity.
Seeing this line of reasoning, time and again, has led me back to my mother's wisdom.
How do you know you're pro-life?
As a woman, have you brought a baby into the world through uncertain circumstances, either health or socio-economic, when abortion could have been an option? Have you rebuffed others' efforts to convince you to have an abortion and had the child anyway? Have you been a victim of a terrible crime from which you became pregnant, and either kept the baby or gave it up for adoption rather than choose abortion?
As a man, have you stepped up and committed to do whatever is necessary to take care of a child - regardless of whether it's biologically yours - when abortion might look like the easy way out for you or the person pregnant?
To me, those are criteria, albeit not a comprehensive list, for calling yourself "pro-life" and - some disclosure here - I am a pro-life advocate who fits one of the above listed. If you've never really had to "choose life" under some duress, and you are just loudly demanding that people faced with those situations do what you think is right, are you not just a pro-life sympathizer?
To be pro- or anti- anything (life, choice, guns, LGBT, etc.) you should first go to the trouble to learn what drives either decision. Leading your argument with "I can't understand how anyone would decide to ..." means everything you say after that will either come from a lack of exposure or cultivated ignorance. Neither is a foundation for a valid position.
Empathy matters. It's not weakness. It's not ungodly (in fact, it's the opposite). Learning things about issues or people that change the way you look at them doesn't make you wrong any more than carelessly sharing un-vetted information on Facebook that represents your worldview makes you right.
What I've found often is that taking the empathetic approach actually strengthens the beliefs I already hold, while also allowing me to see others clearly as fellow humans, rather than a horde of enemies threatening my way of life.
Without empathy, you can't possibly claim a moral or ethical high ground. All you can truly claim, in that case, is you hate what you don't understand and you want the power to eradicate it.
That attitude, to put it mildly, isn't productive.
Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.
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